A people centered approach to Digital Transformation

Transformation is on the tip of every ones tongues in some way, shape or form. Business, organisational and digital are now time and time again the transformation areas that companies are looking at.

Jonathan Denby
6 min readApr 4, 2018


A capture from a workshop ran at MakoLab head offices in June 2017

You don’t have to go back too far as to understand why either. Let’s take Slack as an example. The first release of Slack was in August 2013. Essentially a highly visual manifestation of IRC (Internet Relay Chat — initially released in 1988) in it’s early days, it quickly became a communications platform of choice across businesses large and small due to it’s integrations, easy-to-use nature and it’s Giphy integration (this last point might be one for myself).

Slack now boasts over 6million daily active users (DAU), 50,000 paid “teams” relating to either organisations or projects and overa whopping 5 hours active per user on weekdays (Source). All of a sudden Slack gave people the opportunity to communicate internally without leaving their desk and making them take a step away from their workflow.

And to refer back to my point earlier — it was born from technology cited as being founded in 1988. This was not new tech, but more a new way to envision a type of technology that solved the simple problem of “how do we keep people productive?”

A marked change in form, nature, or appearance

The Oxford Dictionaries refers to the term transformation as “a marked change in form, nature, or appearance”. Slack perfectly epitomises this definition on all fronts of form, nature and appearance — all of a sudden internal comms became “sexy” (for want of a better term).

It should come as no surprise that in April 2015 then Slack was rumoured to be valued at an estimated $2.4billion off a fundraising round of $160million. Not bad for an 18 month old business at the time.

The point?

Fundamentally any transformation approach needs to be people centric. Slack is a fantastic case study and one that is born out of a common problem in the workplace in that there are simply meetings for the sake of meetings, yet identifying (albeit by accident) that the technology already existed to build upon and improve.

The need to follow a people centric approach is born out of daily expectation. People, on a regular basis, open the likes of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp on their smartphones and so on and have expectations of how things work and how they can use them to interact. After watching a chap try to use “shake to pay” from Starbucks to get on the tube a few weeks ago I would say there is still some learning to be done, but we’re certainly getting there.

People are no longer just users, they’re invested consumers that spend time and even money on some of these platforms. Simply look at the rumoured move of WhatsApp to business accounts and Facebook Messenger becoming a customer service destination (April 2018 Edit: This actually happened) to really bring that across (albeit this is ultimately the same entity, the sentiment of putting the customer first remains prevalent).

A simple approach

During my time in some previous agencies, there was an obvious transition to creating user research-led products that derived long term value, measured not just through ROI but through the likes of dwell time, DAU & MAU (monthly active users) and engagement for example.

This meant telling people with solid briefs to take a step back and have a think — what are you actually trying to achieve? Is your brief well informed enough from your customer/user base to be a true representation of what they want? Or are you simply playing the role of Maker by creating this brief yourself?

What you never want to do as a brand, or receive as an agency, is an ill-informed brief. What you truly want is a problem. Questions such as “why don’t our users want to use our product?” or “why are we losing DAU?” are completely relevant questions and ones which forms the basis of any approach.

At a previous agency I was introduced to the concept of Digital Transformation. The model they were presenting represented Technology, People and Process as a series of dependencies and key areas that needed to be considered.

The initial proposed approach around digital transformation

When you consider the trifecta of areas it’s easy to assume each is a key area that would be handled by different people across change management units of a business. I would argue however that the supplier should take responsibility for all of these. The role of a supplier is to guide and shape the vision of a product along with all the moving parts — whether that be training, risk management and so on.

When I stepped away from from an agency in February 2015, and joined another, I started to take point with support of a great team over there on a lot of products for both start-ups and substantially sized businesses, doing much of the initial leg work in scoping and identifying user needs.

I felt that the earlier process perhaps gave equal weight to each area of the project/product whereas technology, in the areas I was working in, was simply the tip of the iceberg (an age old, tiring analogy but it makes the point). Underneath the water was all the other layers that were required so I took some time to re-address the model and reimagine it in my own way.

My re-imagined approach

It isn’t fundamentally that different to the previous model however what it does is prioritise approach. Suddenly we can see people act as the foundations to our projects/products, whilst the concept of understanding process (technological, organisational etc) informs some of the more tangible aspects of our developments by asking questions like “how would we integrate X with Y?” and “what would be the impact to X if we did Y?”.

We also treat technology as an outcome and not an output, whether technology be the actual outcome at all (hence the reference to execution in the diagram). The outcome may also be, in fact, that you simply need to integrate Slack because it does everything you need it to, so why build your own communications platform when there is one readily available? All of a sudden the output is a mix of organisational change, training and process definition with a touch of technology.

The point above all else is that there is no right and wrong way to follow this structure and the questions you ask along the way. To those of you reading this who feel like this all sounds like it makes sense and you’ve heard it before, it is at it’s most basic a simplified version of the concept of User Centred Design. This approach places an increased emphasis on users and the attention given to them at each stage of the project.

This article was originally posted over on LinkedIn in February 2016. If you want to know more about how this approach, or any others at MakoLab could help, then why not get in touch today?



Jonathan Denby

Digital Strategy chap. Business Director @MakoLab. Drink too much coffee. Eat too many biscuits.